A surprisingly poignant and affecting teenage drama, The Spectacular Now (2013 dir. James Ponsoldt) captures the trials and tribulations of two young lovers who are the same age but at completely different stages in their lives. A synopsis:
Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whiskey-fortified thirst-master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finecky hovering over him. She’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. While Aimee has dreams of a future, Sutter lives in the impressive delusion of a spectacular now, yet somehow, they’re drawn together. (source)
When I started watching this film, I felt this pervading sense of dread, as if I were about to watch yet another mind-numbing teen drama. Luckily, I was completely wrong, as The Spectacular Now proved itself to be a drama for the teenage bracket with a good amount of authenticity and heart. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley sparkle in this film. Teller is particularly impressive as the charming, yet also kind of obnoxious, party animal Sutter Keely. I partly watched this film after being so stunned by his performance in Whiplash (2014), and in comparison with that, I was not let down one bit. Miles Teller is fast proving himself to be an actor to watch from now on. Meanwhile, Shailene Woodley again shows us how she works best at portraying real people with real flaws. I was reminded of Woodley’s emotive performance in The Fault In Our Stars (2014), with her signature subtle and naturalistic acting ability that works its magic by showing more than it tells.
I think what I really loved the most about The Spectacular Now was its authenticity. This is no Dawson’s Creek style of drama, where the teenagers speak with the language of a Ph.D thesis. The dialogue just seems real, and it is to both Teller’s and Woodley’s credit that it never feels cliched or forced. Each interjection of mumbling, giggling, and other non-verbal behaviours, comes across as genuine and typical for people at that particular age and stage. Additionally, the decisions around costuming and set design also seem very real for these characters. Often in teen drama films you’ll see female characters who are meant to disappear into the wallpaper, the mousy girls who are supposedly ignored by boys, but the actresses will be stunningly beautiful which makes the premise completely unbelievable. In The Spectacular Now, you truly believe that Woodley’s Aimee Finecky is someone who gets looked over in favour of others, but has a lot more to offer below the surface.
Some may say that this film feels slightly long for its runtime, and that may be true; at roughly 90 minutes, it does feel as if it’s much longer. But for me, that’s reflective of the film’s contemplative and realistic nature. The film doesn’t rush past certain moments, but prefers to look at them with a magnifying glass. One potentially awkward example of this is Aimee and Sutter’s first sexual experience with one another, which seems to be observed in real time until the inevitable fade to black. Any lesser teen drama would glamourise this kind of experience, but The Spectacular Now prefers to observe it realistically, which in comparison with other films involves a more direct gaze. The tone of the film is never ponderous, but it is definitely slower than others, which some may feel is ultimately to the film’s overall benefit.
The Spectacular Now is truly a film about what it’s like to be a teenager in love with another teenager, and the conflicts that can arise during that transitional stage; when both are at the jumping off point where you have the choice to either stay safe, or to leave the nest. As aforementioned, this film’s real asset is its genuineness and authenticity, as well as Teller and Woodley’s performances, which are just as great as each other. If you’re looking for a drama with heart and a nice romance without the saccharine sensibilities of the genre, this might just be the perfect one to watch.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film at Amazon!